Judge: Clerk Can Deny Gay Marriage Licenses During Appeal

In this July 20, 2015 file photo, Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, right, walks with her attorney Roger Gannam into the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky in Covington, Ky. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley) File - AP

A Kentucky county clerk who objects to same-sex marriage will not have to issue marriage licenses while she takes her case to a federal appeals court.

Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis is being sued by two gay couples, and U.S. District Judge David Bunning ordered her last week to issue them licenses despite her objections.

But on Monday, he granted her request to stay his decision while she pursues her case before the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Davis has refused to grant marriage licenses to anyone in Rowan County since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. Kentucky's governor ordered her to issue the licenses immediately, or resign. She told the judge that after consulting God, she decided she couldn't comply.

Bunning said Monday that Davis is not entitled to more time before complying or resigning, but because "emotions are running high on both sides of the debate," he delayed his order anyway.

The ruling imposes more delays on the efforts by two couples to get marriage licenses in the county where they live, work and pay taxes following the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide in June.

Davis stopped issuing all marriage licenses after the high court's ruling, saying it would violate her Christian beliefs to issue a license to a same-sex couple that has her name on it.

"It is comparable to forcing the religious objecting nurse to perform an abortion, the religious objecting company or non-profit to pay for abortions or abortion-related insurance coverage, the religious objecting non-combatant to fire on an enemy soldier, or the religious objecting state official to participate in or attend the execution of a convicted prisoner," Davis' attorney Jonathan Christman wrote in a motion asking Bunning to delay his order.

Stays of court orders are common to maintain the status quo pending an appeal, but in this case, the delay enables the continuation "of an unlawful policy," the plaintiffs' attorneys complained.

Davis wants Kentucky lawmakers to pass a law allowing county clerks to opt out of issuing marriage licenses for religious reasons. Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear, who went around Kentucky's Democratic attorney general to defend the state's ban on same-sex marriage in federal court, has declined to call a special session on the issue.

Davis faces fines and a possible jail sentence for contempt of court if she loses the lawsuit, but she can only be impeached from her $80,000 a year job by the state legislature, and lawmakers won't reconvene until January.